House on the Hill
Ken Harris is famous for his fabulous duck decoys. But until now, it was not known that he was also a folk art painter. We are pleased to offer this rare painting by Ken. The signature has been verified by a decoy that showed his signature. This matches the signature on the painting.
This painting is done on Masonite board. Ken was using this material on his decoys from 1950 to 1954 and dates this painting to this time period. At this time Ken was working in Woodville, NY
Artist: Kenneth I. (Ken) Harris (1905-1981)
Medium: Oil on board
Date: 1950 - 1954
Signed: Ken Harris l/r
Style: Folk Art
Size: 15 1/2 x 11 1/2"
Frame: Country Wooden
Notes & Literature Kenneth I. (Ken) Harris (1905-1981)
Ken Harris was born and raised in Watertown, N.Y. He was an ardent duck hunter and trout fisherman in his earlier years, and began carving hunting decoys in 1927, in part to disprove the statement that black ducks would not decoy. As word of his decoys began to spread, Ken began to carve for his friends and then as a part time business. All of the decoys made in Watertown were produced in his basement workshop with the assistance of his wife and two sons.
In 1944/45 Ken moved to the Woodville area and began carving full time. By 1947 he had moved to his well known location along Route 3, initially using the barn as both workshop and display room. An article printed December 18, 1948 in the Watertown Daily Times stated that Ken and his son William produced over 4,600 duck decoys in the “last year”.
Around 1963, Ken discontinued the wholesale distribution of gunning decoys to various stores, and concentrated on retail sales at his Route 3 show room. In 1981, Ken retired and sold his business to Tom Ferguson. Eight months later, Ken was stricken by a heart attack while checking his trap line.
Cork is a traditional material used for the bodies of hunting decoys. Compared to wood, cork is much lighter and easier to carve, but not as durable. To compensate for its lower durability, cork decoys typically include a wooden keel or bottom board, and thicker tail areas, sometimes reinforced with a wooden insert. Ken Harris cork-bodied hunting decoys can be divided into three basic groups:
1. The earliest, and most common, has a beveled bottom board that covers part of the bottom area. Some of these beveled bottom boards are quite narrow and similar to a keel, while others cover half to two-thirds of the bottom. Made in both Watertown and Woodville from the late 1920s until 1947/48.
2. The middle and least common group has a wood or plywood bottom board that covers the entire bottom. These decoys were made entirely in Woodville from 1947/48 until 1950/51.
3. The last group, also made entirely in Woodville, has a thin Masonite bottom board that covers the entire bottom area, with an attached wooden keel. These decoys were made mostly from 1950/51 until 1953/54, but Harris made special order cork decoys in later years.
Condition: No defects noted